All posts by Unite the Fight

July 2nd Could Spell The Beginning of the End for Prop 8 – The Team Behind the Case

(Movement on the big Olson/Boies Prop 8 case – promoted by Julia Rosen)

July 2nd could mark the beginning of the end to Prop 8, the controversial initiative that stripped California’s LGBT population of the right to marry.

Why? Because on July 2nd, the first hearing of the federal case brought against Prop 8 by power team Ted Olson and David Boies will be heard in the North California U.S. District Court with the case assigned to Judge Vaughn Walker.

Even more dramatically, Olson and Boies, who have an amazing track record of winning cases, had requested a preliminary injunction against the initiative while the courts heard the merits of their case. In other words, this would have put the enforcement of Prop 8 in the Golden State on hold during the trial, consequently allowing same-sex marriages to occur again.

The hearing on July 2nd would’ve centered around the merits of the injunction, but Judge Walker had other thoughts in mind, calling recently for a move to “proceed expeditiously to trial.”

“Given that serious questions are raised in these proceedings … the court is inclined to proceed directly and expeditiously to the merits of plaintiffs’ claims,” the judge declared. “The just, speedy and inexpensive determination of these issues would appear to call for proceeding promptly to trial.”

(See Case Document and Motion for Preliminary Injunction, Judge Walker’s Order for Trial)

This can be seen as a very good sign. The arguments for an injunction mirror the arguments to end Prop 8 altogether, and as the judge stated in his order, this simply demands that a trial must begin right away. Why put a “band-aid” on the situation when you can end the pain altogether?

“We are encouraged that the judge wants to dispense with the preliminaries and move quickly toward a final ruling on the unconstitutionality of Proposition 8,” Olson said in a press release. “This case is about protecting people’s fundamental Constitutional rights, and we agree that it is in everyone’s best interest to resolve this matter as quickly as possible. We are prepared to move forward at as fast a pace as the court desires.”

Prop 8 may be history very soon. That’s a lot to take in. But that’s what would happen in the best of circumstances. Many different circumstances can shift the fate of this case and how Prop 8 continues its reign over California.

It can be confusing sorting out all the facts, especially given some of the controversy surrounding the case. So I decided to go straight to the source for clarification on all the different possible outcomes and ramifications and spoke to the team taking the Prop 8 to task.

But first, some background.

How the Case Began

To find out how the case came into being, I went to Chad Griffin. Chad, who is openly gay, began his political career over a decade ago as the youngest person to work on a president’s West Wing staff and now works for his own political and communications strategy firm, Griffin Schake.

Similar to the experiences of millions of LGBT across the country, Chad told me about his own on election day. “I’m a political strategist – I was devastated like everyone – such a bittersweet experience with Obama becoming president while the banning of gay marriage in California and gay adoption in my home state of Arkansas passed. It was very difficult to celebrate.”

After allowing only a few hours to be depressed, Chad and some politically progressive friends, such as movie director Rob Reiner, producer Bruce Cohen and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, began discussing what was next.

“We’re in a war, and we discussed where we could take the war. If you have a single goal in winning that war, you want to have the opposition on the defensive on all fronts,” Chad said.  By the end of their discussion, they believed a federal case against Prop 8 would be a powerful next step.

Not long after, these friends, along with Griffin’s business partner Kristina Schake, founded the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER), created with the sole purpose to support this case. Not long after, they announced the board.

But who was to fight this case?

How Ted Olson and David Boies Took Up the Case

Chad recounted to me the night that he and the future board members of the AFER discussed next steps.

“We went down this path, discussing where donors can be putting their money and activists where they could be spending their time. In our discussions, someone mention that perhaps [Ted] Olson held the same view as us on gay marriage. I responded with skepticism and doubt.”

Why such doubt? If you recall the infamous presidential election of 2000 and the historical Bush V. Gore Supreme Court case which effectively determined the final result of the contested 2000 Presidential election.  Guess who argued for Bush. Ted Olson. He was later appointed by Bush as U.S. Solicitor General and served in the position until 2004.

Chad put aside his skepticism and gave Olson a call and was pleasantly surprised. They agreed to meet in Washington DC where Olson began to inform Chad of his impassioned beliefs for the equal rights of all LGBT.

“I realized I could be sitting in the room with the most eloquent, articulate game-changing spokesperson of our movement. As the conversation went on, I was quite impressed with his analysis of the legal aspects,” Chad told Unite the Fight. “We discussed timing, on now versus wait, and the arguments that could be used for and against, and the impacts on the LGBT community – how state sanctioned discrimination leads to the real life consequences, such as rising suicide rates in LGBT youth, who are being kicked out of their homes when they come out. Ted expressed his long held personal views of support for same-sex marriage.”

By the end of the meeting, Olson was on board, but Chad believed an “equally prominent co-counsel” was needed to push the case to the forefront of the fight for equal rights.

Olson suggested another powerhouse attorney David Boies, the lawyer he faced down in the Bush V. Gore case. Equally prominent indeed.

It didn’t take long to get Boies on board, and the once opposing attorneys immediately got to work. With two sets of same-sex unmarried couples with a desire to marry acting as plaintiffs, the case was filed and immediately, the media frenzy began. (AFER press conference.)

Criticisms Against the Case

Immediately, large organizations objected to the case, calling it premature and fearing that a loss could set back the marriage equality movement years if not decades.  The ACLU told Time that “The U.S. Supreme Court typically does not get too far ahead of either public opinion or the law in the majority of states.”

“Look at the Loving vs. Virginia case – if Loving would have waited for public opinion to catch up, they would have waited years if not decades,” Chad told me. “Only 17 percent of the American public were in favor of interracial marriage.”

“We’re now approaching 50 percent of the American public [in favor of marriage equality]. We have six states with marriage equality. The Supreme Court and our court system was not designed to wait on public opinion,” Chad continued.

“We can all agree to disagree on different tactics but at the end of the day, we all have the same goal – we can all agree on winning full federal rights for all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people,” Chad told me. But in most cases, “The response to the case has been overwhelmingly positive.”

AFER has also continued to talk to the specific organizations that originally objected, and after hearing more about the case, they have reacted more positively.  Since this discussion, the ACLU has done a 180 and along with other organizations, has filed “friend of the court” briefs in support of the case, as well as California Gov. Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Jerry Brown.

This led me to more specific questions. Why go federal now, especially with a divided Supreme Court with a conservative makeup? What’s the grounds of the argument of the case?

Chad humbly admitted to not being a lawyer and kindly directed me to Ted Boutrous Jr., partner at Gibson, Dunn and Cruther of which Ted Olson is also a partner.

But before signing off, Chad said, “I don’t think it’s correct to say that we have a divided [Supreme] Court – we have a 4/4 with Kennedy being a swing vote. The last two gay cases winning with a 5-4 vote.”

The Timing and Specifics of the Case

“We think we can win and can win now,” Ted Boutrous told me. “Based on the Supreme Court decisions in the Lawrence vs. Texas and Romer vs. Evans [gay rights] cases, the arguments are extremely strong.”

“Olson and Boies believe we can win now, and to win, you have to go in and give the arguments,” Boutrous continued. “It’s been the Supreme Court that has really been the change agent when it comes down to striking down discriminatory laws.”

Olson has a 75% win for his cases with Boies having an equally impressive track record, and both have argued numerous cases in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. If they believe we can win, that’s not something you take in lightly.

In talking with Boutrous and reading the AFER website, I learned of the core arguments supporting the federal case against Prop 8.

According to the suit, Prop 8:

-Violates the Due Process Clause by impinging on fundamental liberties.

-Violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Singles out gays and lesbians for a disfavored legal status, thereby creating a category of “secondclass citizens.”

-Discriminates on the basis of gender.

-Discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation.

There’s been a lot of talk about the case reaching the U.S. Supreme Court, but I wanted to know what had to happen first before it got there. Boutrous helped break it down for me.

First, the case must be heard in the  North California U.S. District Court by Judge Vaughn Walker. As mentioned, the hearing begins on July 2nd, and on this day, Judge Walker and the attorneys on both sides of the issue will determine how to “proceed expeditiously to trial.”

Second, most likely either side will appeal the ruling if it goes against their liking. In this case, it will then reach the United States Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

It will only be after that ruling will either side appeal to go to the U.S. Supreme Court. But even then, the high court may not hear it. They will have to decide whether or not to take the case certiorari, which is the decision of the court to review a lower court’s opinion by “rule of four.” This means, four Supreme Court justices have to agree to hear the case.

Though one could never predict how the Supreme Court justices will decide, one major deciding factor tends to be whether or not the lower courts have made opposing decisions favoring one side or the other.

Either way you look at it, it could be awhile before the U.S. Supreme Court hears any case on Prop 8.

But I still had questions about the ramifications of the case going through the court system. What if the case wins? What if it loses? What effect, if any, will it have on a new initiative to repeal Prop 8 in either 2010 or 2012?

Ramifications of the Federal Case Against Prop 8

“First, we strongly believe we’re going to win,” Boutrous reiterated. “Second, whatever the court rules, it will be a crucial and necessary step to ultimate victory in equality for all. It’s not an all or nothing case.”

When I asked him what he meant, he explained, “This case will lay the foundation and create building blocks for future cases. Unless the courts begin now to examine these federal constitutional issues, it could be decades before progress is made.”

But isn’t it still a big risk for the movement?

“When you file a lawsuit like this, lawyers and clients need to do an analysis, and we determined now is the time do raise these challenges,” Boutrous said, again pointing to the phenomenal expertise of Olson and Boies.  “You do have to factor in the inherent challenges – We expect to win.”

“You’re not going to be able to gain your constitutional rights unless you go into court and argue for them,” he noted. “We think either way its crucial to get this issue before the Supreme Court now, or it can take 10, 20 30 years before we gain equality for all.  We think this is the time to raise these claims, we think we’re going to win.”

So what will it do for our rights if the case gains final victory?

“It could lead to the elimination of barriers across the country by the way the ruling is framed,” Boutrous answered.

But specific rights gained either just in California or nationwide lie in the details of the Supreme Court ruling itself, which no one can predict.

“With the Supreme Court, it could rule broadly [for all of the nation] or a targeted way against Prop 8, but we believe either way, the ruling would have signification ramifications across the country,” Boutrous told me.

In other words, California LGBT residents may earn back their right to marry, but the state-by-state battle would still continue. Or, the Supreme Court can say to hell with all the laws in the nation banning same-sex marriage, and the whole U.S. LGBT population will finally be allowed to legally marry and gain federal recognition.

How will this case affect a repeal Prop 8 effort in California in either 2010 or 2012?

Boutrous echoed Chad’s earlier words about fighting for LGBT rights on all fronts, both at the local level and at the federal level. If Prop 8 is overturned through a voter referendum, it could in fact render their case “moot.”

“We could very likely be geared to file a lawsuit in another state that continue to ban same-sex marriage. If Prop 8 were overturned at the ballot box, we would likely take everything that we have done in California and fight the battle there.”

“Olson and Boies are on opposite sides of the political aisle.  We think, to the public, this could help enhance the likelihood of success at the ballot box,” Boutrous continued. “If the worst news we get is that the voters have wiped Prop 8 off the books at the ballot box, then we will reevaluate our case with smiles on our faces.”

After talking to the very helpful Ted Boutrous Jr. and Chad Giffin, I was ready to type up everything I learned and share it to the Unite the Fight leadership.

But then the horrible and offensive Department of Justice (DOJ) brief defending DOMA was released under the watch of Obama’s Administration in reaction to another federal case. As I got caught up in reporting on the brief, I kept thinking, “What bearing at all does this have on the Prop 8 case?”

The Consequences of the DOMA Brief for the Federal Case Against Prop 8

Armed with new questions, I was directed to to speak to Gibson Dunn and Crutcher partner Matthew McGill, who is on the Prop 8 litigation team at the firm.

I jumped right in, asking, “The DOJ just issued a brief defending DOMA, and stated that ‘DOMA Is Consistent with Equal Protection and Due Process Principles.’ Though your case is against Prop 8 and not DOMA, doesn’t this still cut down the core of your argument against it? How will this affect your case?”

McGill didn’t skip a beat.

“We don’t think it affects it very much if at all,” he said. “The analysis is quite different as to whether a federal statute violates the [Equal Protection] principles as opposed to this particular state provision. We think it’s an entirely different analysis.”

“We think that the government’s defense of DOMA is quite wrong and wrong-headed. It’s not a defensible position for any number of independent reasons,” he continued. “When the government discriminates, it has to have a reason. For certain forms of discrimination, it has to have a really powerful reason.”

“Some of the interests that the government might use to defend DOMA arise out of the fact that the federal government uniquely has to deal with 50 states plus DC and Puerto Rico and other territories and all of these state regimes at the same time,” McGill said. “The federal government argues this allows it to apply the lowest common denominator when it comes to marriage equality. It only need recognize as valid marriages the stingiest state view of marriage.”

So where does Prop 8 fit into this?

“That argument is simply not available to defend Prop 8,” McGill answered. “[California] is not in the position of the federal government having to contend with 50 different legal regimes.”

“When you’re taking on a federal statute like DOMA, you’re taking on the United States,” McGill told me. “I think part of the reason we’ve chosen at this point to limit our challenge to Prop 8 is to take things one step at a time. When people heard that a federal lawsuit had been filed, they assumed it was an all or nothing gambit for those seeking marriage equality. And that’s simply not true. We’d be very satisfied to establish marriage equality in California, and then work from that precedent to move and take on the next battle in a position of strength.”

Thursday, July 2nd

So, with my questions having been answered by the helpful team fighting Prop 8, I now wait with bated breath for Thursday, July 2nd, to watch them in action as the hearings for the case begin, leading hopefully to a speedy trial, and ultimately, the end of Prop 8.

No one said this was going to be an easy fight, nor did they claim there was one path to victory.  But in my humble opinion, it can’t hurt to be fighting on all fronts, including the extremely difficult federal front. But with the amazing Olson and Boies on our side, a team that Chad beautifully described as our movement’s “grandest of coups,” how can we not support it?

LA City Council Unanimously Passes Resolution Condemning Iraqi Torture of Gay Men

On Wednesday, after hearing several emotional speeches, the Los Angeles City Council unanimously passed a resolution that “calls upon the government of Iraq to prevent the persecution of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and protect the right to life and the right of all its citizens to be free from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

The resolution, sponsored by openly gay council member Bill Rosendahl, is the first public statement by a city or official government body in the United States condemning the torturous actions and murder of gay men in Iraq. Among the atrocious actions is the rounding up of gay men, gluing their anuses shut and giving them a diarrhetic, causing their digestive systems to shut down, ending in death.

The hearing began with an opening from Rosendahl, stating “While we’re standing here in this great country, right now, in Iraq . . . We are seeing gay people rounded up and killed. As I’m standing here, our people are being murdered. Our government needs to focus on it.”

Rosendahl then handed the proceeding over to Hossein Alizadeh from the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, whose organization's motto is “Human Rights for Everyone. Everywhere.”

Mr. Alizadeh read a letter from a 25-year old gay man in Iraq who feared for his life.

“My problem is that I’m a gay, and as a gay man I can’t live a normal life in Iraq because,” the letter read. “Every time I walk on the street I wonder what may happen to me today. To protect myself, I have to lie to everyone and pretend that I am a straight person. It is really hard to be a 24/7 liar out of the fear of death…I keep asking myself if this is going to be MY LIFE!!!

“I have no one to turn to.

“My family doesn’t know about my homosexuality…if they find out, they will disown me because I will become a disgrace to them. They may even try to kill me to protect their honor.”

The letter is posted in full at the bottom.

While reading this letter, Mr. Alizadeh played the following a PowerPoint presentation that included text from posters distributed throughout Baghdad, calling for the death of homosexuals, as well as witnesses and quotes from news reports.

Mr. Alizadeh concluded his presentation, stating, “There are hundreds of people like him in Iraq that are being tortured to death and killed everyday.”

Following the reading of the letter, Ally Bolour, Immigration Attorney specializing in LGBT asylum and co-chair of the IGLHRC board, spoke. “I’ve been working human rights, asylum cases for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender folk from all over the world. And after almost thirteen years of being in this business, I’ve seriously thought I’ve seen it all. When I heard and what I saw what’s happening to Iraqi gays, just one word came to mind, one phrase – unconscionable, ” Mr. Bolour said. “How can we as the civilized west, the civilized world, sit by, idly, and not do something?”

The floor was then opened up for public commentary. The crowd in the chamber room contained many union members present for other issues, including the service workers' union SEIU, who were waiting to hear a resolution that would pressure the local airports to provide health insurance to their members.

When those from the public spoke in support of the Iraq resolution, the union members stood in solidarity. In a further show of support, Jose Morales, member of the executive board of the SEIU of local chapter 1877, spoke with a translator.

“We’re an organization that opposes discrimination wherever it is,” Mr. Morales declared. “Whether it’s in Iraq, whether it’s in Mexico, and we’re here today in opposition to what’s happening in Iraq. So we’re here today to demand dignity and respect all over the world for our people.”

Rosendahl then stood up, amending the resolution's motion and heightening its urgency by adding a call to President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “to take action, to end the persecution and murder of Iraqi gays, including but not limited to making a strong public and international statement, condemning the action and exerting all necessary pressure on the Iraq government to take action.”

At this point, council members took emotional stands of support for the resolution. Councilmember Tony Cardenas stood first. “We as a country stand for equal justice and equal rights for every single human being,” he said. “I think the city of LA should stand up and say we’ve been made aware of this, and because we’re aware of it, we’re saying as a city, that we shall not stand silently and just watch it happen.”

Councilmember Janice Hahn followed with an emotional declaration. “It’s just so hard to hear. It’s so hard to listen to this. It’s unbelievable torture. And it’s interesting that we’ve had this broad civic debate in this country about where we stand as Americans on torture, “she said. “This is certainly a level of torture that I think really rises above all the memos the war memos that we’ve seen released during the last month.”

“And when I say the pledge of allegiance, when it gets to the end phrase, 'with liberty and justice for all,' I always add 'someday,'” she continued. “I believe there is not justice for all at this moment, and as long as we hear stories about that on this planet I will not be able to say that there is liberty and justice for all anywhere. An injury to one is an injury to all. We pray that this type of torture will come to an end.”

District 10 Councilmember Herb J. Wesson, Jr. had an important objection to Rosendahl's earlier statement. “I take issue with one statement that you [Rosendahl] made when you said 'these are my people.’ That’s not true. They are human beings. They are our people. And I think we need to get away from that. People need to just start seeing people for who they are.”

He continued, “I feel real personal where it relates to this because there’s not a member here that doesn’t have a relative, even if you don’t want to admit, that is either gay or lesbian. I got like nine in my family! OK. Every week it seems like I get a new addition. That’s my family, ok. That’s my people.”

He then referred to the importance of the resolution. “The least we can do is stand up and say, 'We know this is going on, it’s wrong, and we’re lifting our voice, saying it’s wrong. Stop it.' I don’t see a reason why the president could not say something about this.”

Councilmember Ed Reyes followed. “This is the 2nd largest city in the country. For this council to make a statement, it will be heard. It will be heard by many.”

Mr. Reyes then made a connection between the torture and the bullying of LGBT youth in America. “Right now, today, throughout the country today, there are children who are being bullied, there are kids being attack because of the way they are, how they behave, because of the tendency to be different. And that’s wrong. And it’s all connected. The message of allowing this to occur, of sticking our heads in the sand, it’s wrong.”

“The United States went to Iraq on the basis of protecting human rights,” Councilmember Jose Huizar reminded the chamber. “And when we see it’s actually gotten worse in respect to gays and lesbians we got to raise the flag and say, 'This is wrong.'”

President of the Council, Wendy Greuel, then called for a vote. The resolution passed unanimously 12-0 to thunderous applause.

I’m a 25 year old graduate student from Baghdad and my name is Ahmad. I want to thank you very much for caring about me and my problem. Finally, after many desperate years of hopelessness I found a group of people that understand and care about me.

My problem is that I’m a gay, and as a gay man I can’t live a normal life in Iraq because:

• My life is in danger. I live in continuous fear of people finding out that I’m gay.

• I can’t express my deepest emotions. I can’t love…I can’t tell those who I care about that I love them… It is like being tortured from inside.

In the past few months I have heard of many cases of violence against gay men, including killing, torturing, and public humiliation of us. The religious vigilantes (known as Maghawer) have kidnapped many men suspected of being gay. No one knows anything about the fate of those gays.


The Maghawer’s most popular method of torture for homosexuals is putting silicon glue on their anus to shot down their digestive system and then force them to take laxative drug to make them suffer.


Every time I walk on the street I wonder what may happen to me today. To protect myself, I have to lie to everyone and pretend that I am a straight person. It is really hard to be a 24/7 liar out of the fear of death…I keep asking myself if this is going to be MY LIFE!!!


I have no one to turn to. Not even other gay men or my family members. Recently I have been blackmailed by men I had sex with in the past. They told me either I have to have sex with them again or they will out me to my family, neighbors and even classmates. I had to choose between scandal and public humiliation and prostitution. But I decided that I can’t have sex with people I don’t love … so I decided to transfer to another college in Northern Iraq.


My family doesn’t know about my homosexuality…if they find out, they will disown me because I will become a disgrace to them. They may even try to kill me to protect their honor. I always have to pretend in front my family that I ‘m “normal”…but like any other straight man, my family wants me to marry a woman … I try to avoid that conversation as much as I can but there is a lot of pressure on me to get married.


I am not happy with myself. I am not proud of who I am.


A while back I went to a psychologist to see if he can treat me. I told him about my problem…he told me that homosexuality has no treatment in Iraq and only experienced doctors in developed countries can give me therapy.


The news made me so depressed that I started thinking of committing suicide. I feel even without vigilantes killing me, I AM ALREADY DEAD FROM INSIDE. I just want to know what wrong I have done. Do I have a choice to be gay? Do I want to humiliate myself? Do I want to live in constant fear and anxiety? Do I want my family & friends to hate and abandon me if they discover my truth? Do I want myself to be killed on the hand of uneducated people for something I didn’t choose?


I don’t want to make it long for you…but I want to let you know that I have already suffered too much and I don’t have the power to go through more pain and suffering.


And finally I want to thank you for your support and help…


My Regards and Best Wishes to ALL of YOU…

Iwill soon blog about my own personal account, including a public comment at the hearing I gave.

Equality California Joins Grassroots in Fight for Marriage Equality

( – promoted by Brian Leubitz)

Equality California (EQCA) announced yesterday its new campaign Win Marriage Back. Make It Real!, their first public step in joining the grassroots in laying the groundwork for a new campaign to repeal Prop 8 if the California Supreme Court rules to uphold it.

Just this past weekend, the Courage Campaign announced its support for a 2010 initiative, and now with the EQCA joining in on the call, these two organizations among many other grassroots groups have given a solid signal to California that marriage equality will beckoning the state once again. And soon.

On a phone call with donors today, EQCA's new Marriage Equality Director Marc Solomon and Executive Director Geoff Kors said their new campaign push will be two-fold. First, joining in the grassroots efforts in community organizing, and second, telling the stories of LGBT families who were adversely affected by Prop 8, the lack of which was a major criticism of the No on 8 campaign in which EQCA was major player.

The first point will be met by hiring 25 field organizers in all parts of the state to reach out to their communities and neighborhoods. In the call, a reference was made to Courage Campaign's amazing Camp Courage, a two-day training event designed to teach the principals and skills of community organizing to activists working to restore marriage equality in California. Courage Campaign has invested over a $100,000 in these camps, raised by on-line matching grant donations from the Dolby Family among others.

EQCA will be relying heavily on the hundreds of camp graduates. The camps have so far been held in Los Angeles, Fresno, San Diego, Oakland and coming up soon in Sacramento and East LA, all areas that EQCA plans to do outreach. Graduates of the camps have set up successful Equality Teams throughout the state that engage the electorate in phonebanking, canvassing and more, with voter information provided to them through the Courage Campaign's Equality Hub. This giving away of information has been hailed as unprecedented because it gives anyone who wants to make a difference for equality in their own area the chance to succeed.

EQCA plans to contribute to the canvassing efforts starting this weekend with a goal of reaching 45,000 doors in 100 days. With the resulting information that is gathered, it will be used alongside other grassroots organizations, such as canvassing experts Marriage Equality USA, to build a stronger campaign.

The second point of the new push are two new tv ads that feature LGBT families. Having heard the sharp criticisms of the No on 8 campaign's refusal to show the faces of the LGBT population and its variety, and seeing how successful the Courage Campaign's record-breaking video, “Fidelity, Don't Divorce Us” has been, EQCA will be releasing their own ads on TV this weekend.

See the second ad here.

EQCA working alongside grassroots is a remarkable change since the No on 8 campaign during which the grassroots felt shut out. The failure of the campaign woke a sleeping giant throughout the nation, but particularly in California, displayed prominently in the massive rallies and protests that followed. Even more remarkable is that EQCA, along with Courage Campaign, Marriage Equality USA, FAIR, Equal Roots and more, have all chipped in together on the costs of polling, and with the resulting information, all groups will be armed to work together on the new initiative campaign if needed.

Since the November election, the grassroots has grown stronger and more organized, its full force to be seen on the Saturday following the Supreme Court's ruling on Prop 8. Win or lose, thousands will Meet in the Middle in Fresno, CA, the heart of Yes on 8 territory, not only to show numbers, but to stand in solidarity for equality for all.

Just recently, academy award winning actress Charlize Theron issued a letter through the Courage Campaign, urging everyone, especially straight allies, to show support by meeting in Fresno.

EQCA has take its cue from such organizing. Despite some growing pains in working alongside the grassroots, they will be showing their support by appearing at Meet in the Middle, an event that is sure to launch either a statewide effort to repeal Prop 8 if its upheld, or a nationwide movement for LGBT equality if Prop 8 is thrown out.

Torie Osborn of Courage Campaign Says of Repealing Prop 8, “If Not Now, When?”

“We are who we've been waiting for,” quoted Torie Osborn, a respected leader in the movement and one of the founders of Camp Courage, borrowing a phrase from community organizer borrowing a line from African American, lesbian poet June Jordan's “A Poem For South African Women.”.

In her closing speech at the two-day grassroots organizing camp in Oakland, CA on Sunday, Torie channeled the energy of the movement when she announced that the Courage Campaign would be there to support and empower the grassroots for a November 2010 initiative to repeal Proposition 8 if the state's supreme court didn't overthrow it.

Rick Jacobs, founder and chair of the Courage Campaign, summed it up in a statement to Unite the Fight:

“At Camp Courage Oakland over the weekend, Courage Campaign staff conducted a series of conversations with various marriage equality activists, progressive organizers and grassroots leaders. As Torie Osborn's closing speech demonstrated, the consensus was clear: We are ready to go back to the ballot in 2010, assuming the Supreme Court rules to uphold Prop 8. But before we can make the ultimate decision to support an actual ballot initiative, the Courage Campaign needs to survey our members and consult with our allies in the polling group formed by several organizations a few weeks ago. Based on a vote of our members, we will move forward on a decision along with our partners in the marriage equality movement.”

This is no small announcement.

Even though the organization is still waiting for more information from polling in regards to the technical aspects of submitting an initiative, their commitment to support the grassroots if they choose to go for a 2010 initiative speaks volumes.

Many a debate has waged within the LGBT population in California and abroad about whether an initiative to repeal Prop 8 should happen in 2010 or 2012. Pros and cons for both are numerous, but a lot boils down to one, do we have a enough time to organize a campaign for 2010? Two, can we persuade enough voters to swing the small percentage that gave the Yes on 8 campaign the majority to vote on our side the second time around?

But Torie pointed out that the grassroots, which was denied a role in the No on 8 campaign, is ready for the daunting challenge to take on a 2010 initiative. If the grassroots is ready to go, the Courage Campaign will be there to support them every step of the way.

This underlines the fact that a new campaign would be different, she noted. Instead of being ran top-down like the No on 8 campaign, it would be run from the bottom-up. Indicating the crowd that attended the camp, she added “by the grassroots.”

One could definitely feel the electric energy at the Camp Courage site, with exciting discussions peppered throughout about the inevitability of 2010. In a conversation with Rick Jacobs this weekend, he remarked that it was obvious where things were heading and that if Prop 8 isn't overturned, that the grassroots was ready to go full steam ahead for November 2010.

Another fact that makes this a big announcement is that it comes from the Courage Campaign, the organization responsible for the record breaking “Fidelity: Don't Divorce Us” video.

The organization is an online organizing network that empowers nearly 700,000 grassroots and netroots activists to push for progressive change in California. Engineering online tools and giving voter information to anyone motivated to to make a difference, they provide a way for individuals to make a change in their neighborhood. It's as simple as logging in.

The network enables grassroots to set up their own “Equality Teams” to reach out to the electorate either through canvassing, phonebanking and more in order to change hearts and minds for equality. It's an unprecedented giving away of information that empowers the community to run a campaign on their own. Even if they belong to another organization.

Truly grassroots. And the key difference between victory and defeat.

Overwhelmed by the massive amount of work and strategy needing to take place for 2010, Torie admitted she was in denial about the need for an immediate campaign. But after seeing the passion and drive from hundreds of activists eager to repeal Prop 8, she knew justice couldn't wait.

With tears in her eyes, Torie made the announcement, alongside co-facilitators Mike Bonin and Lisa Powell, that the three of them and the Courage Campaign would be committed to working side-by-side with the grassroots for a 2010 campaign.

They were greeted with thunderous applause.

Rick Jacobs then took to the stage and read from MLK's “A Letter From a Birmingham Jail”:

“We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

Learning from the mistakes of 2008's No on 8 campaign, the leaders of the Courage Campaign and Camp Courage envision a new campaign for marriage equality that includes everyone – grassroots, big organizations, small organizations, LGBT, allies, young and old and of all races. Keeping to the mantra, “Respect. Empower. Include,” everyone will be responsible for winning their rights back and spreading equality for all. Most importantly, it will be sooner than later.

Are you up for the challenge? Because if not now, when?

The Tension Behind Bay Area Reporter’s Story on Grassroots Growing Pains

Today, Seth Hemmelgarn of the Bay Area Reporter (BAR) ran a story titled “Growing pains seen in grassroots work” which describes some of the tension in the marriage equality movement as the power begins to shift from the old guard leadership to the new generation of powerful grassroots leaders heading the charge for change.

Specifically, the story focuses on Robin McGehee, the head organizer for the large event “Meet in the Middle 4 Equality” or known as MITM. (Disclosure: Unite the Fight is the official blog covering the event.) The tension described in the story rose when Robin was informed by local community member Sandy O'Neill of Visalia, CA, that Geoff Kors, President of Equality California (EQCA), had mentioned to her at the Dinah Shore fundraising event in Palm Springs that they were supporting buses to transport people to Fresno for MITM. In fact, no monetary support from EQCA for the event had been given.

“I went [to the Dinah Shore fundraiser] to tell Geoff and Kate [Kendall, Exec. Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR)] how excited I was to see MITM on their websites, especially after their absence in the valley during the No on 8 Campaign,” Sandy told Unite the Fight.

She says Kate sat with her and her wife at their table talking about the movement and MITM and that then she had a chance to talk to Kors. When she brought MITM up to Kors, Sandy quoted him as saying, “Yeah, we're providing the buses for that.”

Kors told Unite the Fight, “I don't recall having this conversation. There was no such commitment.”

“Reason it sticks in my mind is I just read about those buses coming from other cities on the MITM website. 'How are we going to pay for that?' I thought. I assumed it would be the community paying for that,” says Sandy. “When Geoff said they were providing the buses, I thought, 'Oh, that's how.'” Sandy then emailed Robin congratulating her on the support from EQCA. This was what took Robin by surprise.

Robin told Unite the Fight that Equality California first contacted Robin last month after having been asked what they knew about MITM. Not knowing much about the event up to this point, EQCA reached out. Says Robin, “They did contact me last month and asked how they could help. We gave them several options, one being financial support if possible. We mentioned that grassroots groups, such as Courage Campaign and White Knot, had donated money for operating costs and that if they knew someone willing to give, that would be great because most of the cost was going on my credit card.”

Currently, MITM is costing $19,000 and growing.

Robin is known for direct responses and cutting to the heart of the matter. So when asked by Bay Area Reporter Seth Hemmelgarn if EQCA was financially contributing to this large scale event, Robin said no. In an attempt to explain that the financial support might still be coming, Robin explained that she was told by a local community member, Sandy, who attended the above mentioned fundraiser, that EQCA had stated they would be supporting the event with buses. But, as the lead organizer of the event, she had no details to that account.

Frustrations with EQCA and the No on 8 Campaign in the Central Valley stem from the lack of support that they felt during the campaign period. When many central valley activists contacted the campaign asking for support in the solidly red territory of the state, they barely got yard signs.

“When the No on 8 campaign took over, they moved the [EQCA] staff out of the valley,” Kors said. “That was a mistake.”

Robin and the valley area have been very vocal about their feeling of abandonment. “I did tell EQCA about my personal frustrations with how the valley was treated.” And that's not all she's communicated. Robin, who attended the February 26 San Francisco town hall, took the little time left at the town hall to make her position clear by reading the MITM mission statement. An excerpt:

“It would be neglectful not to mention our LGBT brothers and sisters who have not relocated to LGBT friendly places like the bay or LA areas feel like we live in a Third World gay ghetto that somewhat in an after-thought was sent limited rations of resources and supplies as the helicopter jetted back to the safe Mecca of San Francisco and we were left to fend for ourselves. Many might see this statement with the purpose to place blame or shame on any one person or organization, but as a people of faith and courage, we have to believe that all those involved in the fight to secure marriage rights for our community did what they felt was best at the time.”


While reading this at the town hall, Robin says the EQCA panelists and leaders “went to the back of the room to hobnob with the local dignitaries and basically ignored me, Kip Williams [organizer of One Struggle, One Fight] and other leaders talking about next steps. When they asked emerging leaders to speak, it was disingenuous.”

Robin repeated the adjective “disingenuous” to EQCA themselves after they called her frustrated over the Bay Area Reporter article. She heard from their communication director and the director of their public education arm. Robin quoted them as saying, “We never promised anything.” But Robin didn't back down and countered, “I know that you haven't promised anything, but you are stating, publicly, a different message.”

Finally, Kors called. “I never said anything about buses [at the Dinah Shore event],” Robin says Kors told her. “Maybe Kate [Kendall of NCLR] did at an NCLR event.” He asked her why she told Seth he shouldn't be running our next campaign and Robin stated, “You're a good fundraiser and have made fantastic legislative connections, but not a campaigner. You're not in touch with the community.” She even went on to say, “You're disingenuous. You're treating me like I'm naive.”

About an hour after calling Robin, Kors emailed her asking her for the MITM budget and which grassroots groups had donated and how much. Robin gave the budget but refused to say who had given what. “It should not matter who gave what – either you believe in and support the event or you don't – this is not a competition,” she told Unite the Fight. Robin claims that EQCA has stated that they may be able to give $1000, but because MITM is not a non-profit organization or a 501(C)3 and the donation would not be tax deductible, they are still deciding what they are going to do. They offered to receive donations through their “Let California Ring” website, but Robin declined, honestly stating, “If they were answering my questions about the dishonesty that has plagued this entire conversation, we as a community, may be willing to let them serve as our fiscal agent. But right now – we'll have to operate without their donation and fundraise forever to pay off the debt. For grassroots organizers, it should not be this hard.”

Robin also heard from Kate Kendall of NCLR who clarified that she had mentioned at the Dinah Shore event that there were in fact buses available for people to use but that she would never raise money claiming it was for one purpose and then using it for another. “I never said that's what they were doing,” Robin told Unite the Fight was her response. “But someone claimed they were supporting us with buses. Someone is lying.”

“Look, I don't care what happens for me after MITM. I was a nobody before this and can return to being a nobody afterward,” said Robin. “If I have to take forever to pay off my credit card for this, I will. But I just think it's time for them to be honest.”

Many feel change is coming. Molly McKay of Marriage Equality USA, who was an outspoken critic recently said, “Overall, I'm feeling very encouraged” by the efforts of EQCA and other groups.

“We feel like there has been a willingness … to think outside the box and do things in a new way, and I think that we are on the right track,” said McKay. Marc Solomon, who helped MassEquality in Massachusetts win marriage equality there, joined EQCA April 1 as its marriage director. The BAR quoted him at the recent San Francisco town hall, “Our plans for the Central Valley will be led and guided by the people doing the work in the Central Valley … We realize we need to do a lot better there.”

Kors told Unite the Fight they were hiring staff today “to do regional work. They will be [in the Central Valley] for the long term.”

Kors said he found the BAR article, “surprising and confusing,” having spoken to people mentioned in the article for some time and offering support, without hearing of any problems. “I hope we all can focus on unifying the community to fight against an emboldened enemy.”

Robin does regret she let the BAR “bait her” with Seth's questions and does in fact have a desire to have good working relationship with the EQCA and NCLR. “Different stories are floating around out there. I didn't make this happen, though. I try to make every decision I make come from honesty and the heart. All in all, I have to answer to me, my family, my community.”

As many leaders and grassroots organizers have told this blog, it's time we move on and work together, heading in one direction. Growing pains will exist. Miscommunications will abound. Feelings will be hurt. But we all have to keep our eye on our shared ultimate goal – FULL EQUALITY FOR ALL.

Let’s Not Forget Our Pledge of Allegiance

I pledge allegiance

To the Flag

Of the United States of America

And to the Republic

For which it stands

One nation

Under God


With liberty and justice

For all

When was the last time you really thought about the words that you had to speak everyday at the beginning of class throughout your childhood?  At that time, after awhile, you spoke it by rote while barely placing your hand over your heart, not really paying attention to what you were saying, giggling with your friend at the next desk over about some joke on the playground.  So over time, it lost all meaning.

But suddenly, your rights are stripped away, and you think, “How the hell did this happen?”  And then you remember.  “Didn’t I pledge something, about a Republic?”  And suddenly, that droning recital you gave every morning at school has a whole lot of meaning.

I pledge allegiance

Those of us fighting for our equal rights have been accused of being non-American, of trying to thwart the very foundation of our country.  Yet, if I remember right, my history teacher told me that the very reason our country exists was because the colonists who worked their hands to the bone to establish this country (or worked their slaves’ hands to the bone), believed they didn’t have a voice in how they were governed.  “Taxation without representation,” became their motto.  And if I’m not confused, am I not paying taxes NOW for numerous benefits I’m being denied?  Where’s my representation?  So fighting for my rights, my equal rights, to those benefits, is in the exact nature of how our country even began!  I’m standing by my allegiance!

To the Flag

Of the United States of America

. . . 48, 49, 50.  Yep, there’s still fifty stars on that flag.  Meaning, all states make up the Union.  Oh, wait, there’s thirteen stripes, representing the original thirteen colonies that fought for their voices to be heard.  So if I’m interpreting the flag correctly, those fifty stars stand in solidarity with the intent of the colonies to have equal representation.

So why is it that each state can decide for itself whether or not to allow some people marry?  Why is that I can get married in Connecticut, but then drive to North Carolina and suddenly not be married?  That doesn’t sound like a Union to me.

And speaking of the Union as a whole – the federal government doesn’t recognize some marriages while it does others?  Even going as far as to discriminate against its employees?  Doesn’t that go against the very essence of equal representation that its creation was based upon?

And to the Republic

For which it stands. . .

A republic.  A republic?  What’s that?

A Republic is representative government ruled by law (the Constitution). Then what’s a democracy?  A democracy is direct government ruled by the majority (mob rule). A Republic recognizes the inalienable rights of individuals while democracies are only concerned with group wants or needs (the public good).  Of course, if everyone remembered this, or agreed with said definitions, maybe I would still have my rights.  Hopefully, President Obama will remember.

One Nation

Under God

“Under God” was an addition first introduced by the Knights of Columbus.  Need I say more?  Their version of God is not quite mine.  I do believe in a higher power, but I don’t believe that the higher power is condemning me to hell for loving another person, whether or not they are of the same sex as I.


One nation.  I pledged that.  I’m not trying to tear us apart. I’m trying to regain my rights and fight for the rights that my fellow citizens already enjoy.  If anything, that’s unifying our nation. But I believe if someone is actively trying to take someone’s rights away, they’re trying to divide.  So in effect, are they not breaking their pledge?

With Liberty

I don’t have the liberty to marry whom I want.  I did.  At least in California.  But that was taken away.  But a bare majority.  (Re-read what a Republic is)

. . . and Justice for all.

Ah.  Justice.  I’m still waiting to see if the California Supreme Court will issue justice here.  During the Proposition 8 arguments, they kept referring to the will of the people, almost as if they had the final say.  But in a republic, “people” is singular.   Each individual has a say.   Each.  And their say is protected.  In a democracy, “people” is plural, and the majority rule.

I believe I am a “people.”  I believe my LGBT community is a “people.”   And my will, along with theirs, is to have the same rights as my fellow citizens.

Having those rights is justice.


Citizens for Constitutional Government, “Republic vs. Democracy”

Wikipedia, “Addition of the words ‘Under God'”

Is Ken Starr Hurting Pepperdine University?

According to many of the university’s alumni, he is.

With the infamous lawyer’s long track record, ranging from being the prosecutor that impeached President Bill Clinton to Solicitor General, and now his position as lead counsel for the supporters of Proposition 8, many who attended Pepperdine are not comfortable having Ken Starr as the current dean of the university.  They feel his stance on Proposition 8 is “a disgrace.”

So they’ve decided to take action.  They’ve formed a Faceebook group, Pepperdine Law Alums in Support of Repealing Prop 8 and have addressed a letter to be sent to the dean.

In the letter, they urge the school to underscore the difference between the university’s beliefs and that of its figurehead.  “. . . you and the school have a responsibility to clarify where the line between your personal beliefs and the school’s position differ regarding the issue of equality.”

Holding degrees from a university that does not support equal rights threatens not only the school’s reputation, but also their reputation and the respect that said degrees may hold.

“We believe that your representation of supporters of Proposition 8 has the potential to irrevocably damage much of the good work those who have gone before you have done in building equity in the Pepperdine University School of Law reputation unless the School of Law clearly and unequivocally states its commitment to history’s move toward diversity and equality regardless of your personal position on these issues.”  The alumni also acknowledge that in fact LGBT students do exist at the conservative university and empathize what they must be feeling.

“Not only does your public position and active support of Proposition 8 offend and embarrass many alumni, one must imagine that the LGBT students at the School of Law are feeling even more marginalized being subjected to their dean’s public support for discrimination against them. Moreover, you are sending a very clear message about Pepperdine’s culture to prospective students, not only LGBT students, but also their straight allies, and all other minority groups. Unless the School of Law clearly states its commitment to equality, prospective students will no doubt view the school as having an environment where contrasting opinions are suppressed and anyone who supports diversity and equality will be ostracized.”

The school’s paper, the Pepperdine University Graphic, has confirmed that Starr has received the letter but doesn’t know how to respond.  Until the alumni are satisfied with the university, they plan to withhold donations and instead, give to organizations that actually support equal rights.

Not surprisingly, many of the alumni that have signed the letter have only recently graduated from the school, underlining the generation gap on this issue.   Salted throughout are very few who graduated more than just a few years ago.

However, one can feel encouraged that the younger generation, despite having been schooled in Ken Starr’s thought and philosophy, still believe in equality for all, and in very little time, will soon be the majority.

H/T Gay Rights

The Movement is Headed to Fresno, CA

(Camp Courage Fresno! – promoted by Julia Rosen)

In preparing this post, I can’t but help use the first-person perspective because the impact that Camp Courage in Fresno had on me personally as a facilitator is so profound that distancing myself from it would, not only be difficult, but wrong in how I should communicate what needs to be told about the amazing change that is happening in Fresno, CA.

For the sake of time in telling this story, I first need to direct you to my Op-Ed on the first Camp Courage in LA so you can know what Camp Courage is and what it’s about.  This exact same model was brought to Fresno, but effectively expanded upon over the course of two days.

On Saturday morning, we facilitators anxiously waited for our pre-assigned group to arrive through the conference room doors, excited to know who we would be working with for the whole weekend.  The expected 160 and more attendees were randomly divided into groups to help mix it up, and I was curious to see whom I and the rest of the facilitators would get.  Many of us had either been to the energized Camp Courage in LA or had worked at several Camp Obamas, whose model Camp Courage has adopted.  So we were expectant of the same amount of energy.

The attendees, many from Fresno and the large surrounding Central Valley, trickled in and quietly sat down.  Immediately, we could feel that there was energy, but it was definitively different from what we experienced before.  Trying to put my finger on it, I observed my amazingly diverse group – a lesbian in her 70s, a middle-aged gay man, a lesbian in her 20s, a straight woman (yeah, straight!) and a bisexual girl of just 16.  Though we were talking, you couldn’t miss the initial impression – “What do I have in common with these people?  What have I done by coming here?”  As the Camp kicked off, it hit me what the energy was – “Caution.”

As I grew to learn, these residents of the Central Valley had been let down so many times before.  Fresno, CA is practically the capitol of the Bible belt in California (and yes, there is a Bible belt in California), and the local LGBT population has continually and constantly experienced discrimination and hate from their own city.  But worse, they have reached out to their own LGBT community in other cities, raising their voices that they needed help only to get no response.  (Fresno doesn’t even have a center for the LGBT population to meet at, let alone organize.)  During the No on 8 Campaign, they cried out that they needed help, that they were prepared to act, only to receive a few yard signs to put out in response.  And even more, they have witnessed the burgeoning movement blooming in their neighboring urban cities only to be forgotten about.  Again.

No wonder they attended Camp Courage with caution.  “Who are these urbanites coming to our town?  Are they going to let us down again?  Are they going to “train us” only to take off, yet again, to forget us?”  Many probably came only to see their opinion of us, which up to this point was correct, validated.

When we opened the camp, Lisa Powell, the amazing head facilitator, asked the attendees, “Who here is uncomfortable?  Who here doesn’t know anyone?  Who here is wondering, ‘What am I doing here?'”  Quite a few hands went up, and I could tell by the faces of others, they wanted to raise their hands, too.  One 16 year old had been dropped off by their mom, to come to the camp all alone, not knowing anyone.  A sure sign of the desperation and the need for community in the area.

One of the first exercises at Camp Courage is for each member of each group to answer one simple question about themselves.  This easy exercise slowly began to break the thick layer of ice.  It began to dawn of everyone that they’re not just going to sit around listening to a droning speaker talk down to them – they were going to be engaged.

But what was the turning point?  What melted the ice wall?  The brilliant but difficult exercise, “The Story of Self.”  This exercise asks the camper to distill their story of how they came out, about how they overcame a challenge that put them on the path of equality, a story that is extremely personal, a story they may have never told, down to two minutes.  Why?  Because the Story of Self is a powerful tool in connecting with people emotionally, and to help bring them into the movement, to connect even with those who oppose us.

I heard stories about the mistreatment from hospitals keeping partners apart while facing fatal circumstances, about children not relating to their gay parent, about a teenager rising above her difficulties at her school, about a straight woman raised in a religious environment who came to realize that her stance in support of the LGBT community could cost her, about a woman and her partner who can’t get full coverage for their daughter ‘s disability.  I heard more stories about a trans woman who went to school and had to wet her pants everyday until she was allowed to use the woman’s restroom, how others were spit in the face by their fellow Fresno residents simply for being who they were, and so much more.

As I was sitting there, listening to these stories, not being able to keep the tears from welling – it hit me.  I’m not here to facilitate.  I’m here to learn.  I’m hear to listen.  I’m here to show these amazing people that they are not alone.  They have truly been on the front lines, the real soldiers, facing hate in a town in which the residents are not ashamed to show it, actually proud of it, literally spitting it in their faces.  I live in the cush bubble of LA where, if someone does hate me, they’re not about to fling it in my face.

I knew so little.  But I walked away knowing so much more.  And not just that, I left with a greater sense of community way beyond the Los Angeles city limits.

After these brave campers told their stories not just to their groups, but to the whole convention, the ice melted.  These people, many of whom didn’t know each other until this day, exposed their hearts and realized that they were not alone.  They had a community that had shared experiences, not only from far away cities, but within their own neighborhoods.  This was the turning point.  The energy transformed from “caution” to “trust” and “community.”

Over the course of two days, with campers driving miles and miles to return, with speakers like Cleve Jones and Dolores Huerta of the union movement to add to the inspiration, with the Story of Us bringing everyone even closer together, with solid friendships between people who were recently strangers developing, with commitments to change and action being made, the sense of community building was tangible.

The recurring them of Camp Courage Fresno was, “I thought I was alone.  Now I know I’m one of many, and I never have to feel that way again.”

But here’s the amazing thing about Fresno.

They’re not alone simply because we urbanites came along and said sincerely, “We’ll never make the mistake of not listening again.”  The truth is, these amazing people are not alone because they have each other.  They have strength from each other.  They’re planning outstanding events and actions (which I will talk about over and over and over in many posts to come – hello!!!).  They have built their community.  And the movement is headed their direction!

And if there’s one thing I can take away from this experience this past weekend, it’s the sense that I too am a part of a greater community that’s driving an even greater movement.  It’s not just an LGBT community, it’s not just an LGBT movement.  It’s a community of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgenders, intersexuals, queers, straights, union workers, African Americans, Latinos, Asian and everyone in between.

It’s a movement of change.

And I have Fresno, CA to thank for that.

Unite the Fight’s Camp Courage Op-Ed

(I added the report FOX 11 (LA) ran on the event to Unite the Fight’s crossposted piece. Note: I work for the Courage Campaign; “Unite the Fight” does not. – promoted by Robert in Monterey)

Of the countless meetings I’ve attended after the election, focusing either on the postmortem of the No on 8 Campaign (including Saturday’s Equality Summit), brainstorming strategy, figuring out how to build coalitions, planning events and actions, and trying to determine next steps for the movement, I have not been to one meeting that was as effective, inclusive, practical and educational as the Courage Campaign’s Camp Courage.

Held in West Hollywood and knowing that it was going to last from 8:30am-5:30pm, I thought spending my whole Sunday at the event made the whole thing seem daunting. And I was skeptical. After feeling let down after so many attempts to do what the Courage Campaign was attempting, I was prepared to get bored, lose interest in the speakers and eventually tune out altogether. But amazingly, they held my attention the whole time, and I learned a lot. Borrowing the mantra, “Respect – Empower – Include” from the Obama campaign, Camp Courage succeeded in doing just that.

(Due to my having to write the Equality Summit report, I missed the kick off reception the night before, where many told me Cleve Jones gave a riveting speech. Unfortunately, I can’t report the details, but if any of you were able to make it, please write me and tell me about it, and I’ll post it. Also, I hear there is video of this – please let me know when it is up!)

Camp Courage kicked off strong with Courage Campaign founder Rick Jacobs telling the attendees that California is a “state that is tarnished” with discrimination. Indirectly referring to the Equality Summit and its panel of leaders who populated the stage throughout the whole event, he pointed to the empty stage behind him and said, “There are not a lot of people on this stage. You’re the stage!” And that’s how the rest of the day went.

Lisa Powell, lead facilitator who had worked with the Obama campaign, did a great job in leading the overbooked event, involving the crowd divided into predetermined groups with active sessions which lasted throughout the day and included:

   * Story of Self: finding your voice as an activist. After hearing examples from people telling their stories as to why they’re fighting to repeal Prop 8, Lisa broke down the storytelling technique, handed out a worksheet so that each person can shape their own story, and then each participant told their tale to their own group. Learning how to tell your own story is extremely effective in getting others involved in the movement, or opening the eyes of the opponents to the harm of Prop 8. After the sessions amongst the groups, a few were picked to share their story to the whole crowd. Many heart-wrenching tales were given, the unearthing of the motivation driving these activists.

   * Story of Us: the amazing Mike Bonin lead this session about building the movement, one leader at a time.

   * Voter Persuasion: how to talk to the others in one-on-one encounters. Led by Liz Moore of the SEIU, this was an extremely educational and effective session. After an improvised moment between Lisa Powell and Jenny Pizer, portraying a peaceful interaction between neighbors who voted differently on Prop 8, the groups were given worksheets with various scenarios that they had to improvise amongst themselves. Given tools in how to communicate with the opposition, many learned the power of proper persuasion without making those you disagree with uncomfortable or under attack. The emphasis of persuasion was on baby steps – you can’t change someone’s mind with one conversation.

   * Online Tech Tools: this session, led by Julia Rosen, Online Political Director for the Courage Campaign, debuted the organization’s online, grassroots tool, Equality Hub, which allows individuals and grassroots organizations to effectively plan events, socialize and organize. It also includes a voter phone banking tool that allows the individual to make phone calls from their own homes, similar to the Obama Campaign site. Definitely worth checking out.

   * Into Action: this session broke out into groups that contained practical education on door-to-door canvassing, phone banking, tabling, organizing a political house party and online organizing (which went into further detail about the Equality Hub, but also networking and education about online tools that are effective for planning events and keeping your organization’s members or participants active and updated).

   * Our Commitment to the Cause: Lisa Powell talked about the organization’s commitment, to the movement, but as well as the activists, and referred to the Courage Campaign’s project “Please don’t divorce us . . . “

Inserted throughout the sessions were touching (and amazingly concise) speeches from married couple Jenny Pizer of Lamda Legal and Doreena Wong, who, speaking on the legal and political context of marriage equality, spoke about their years in activism and told the story that after 24 years together, Doreena’s mother felt that Jenny was finally officially a part of the family after marrying her daughter; Torie Osborn spoke on organizing and movement building, focusing on respectful interaction with the opposition and learning how to actively listen; and Mike Bonin, telling his story of self, confessed that after working extremely long hours on the Obama campaign, and feeling ashamed that he didn’t do enough for the No on 8 campaign, promised he will never allow himself to put an LGBT initiative “on the back burner.”

With so much material covered in a relatively small amount of time, it’s a marvel that it was all accomplished, and miraculously, on time and on schedule! These Obama-turned-LGBT and equality campaigners know how to lead a large meeting, communicate and educate, but above all, inspire. Led by multi-generational activists, some new and some experienced, Camp Courage offers something for everyone of all ages and backgrounds. Either this is all new to you and you learn the essential basics, or it’s a refresher on old skills, you don’t leave empty handed.

The Courage Campaign plans to hold many more Camp Courage sessions around the state. They are asking us to vote on where some of them will be. I recommend you do, find one near you (Fresno is already confirmed and they intend to schedule more in San Luis Obsispo, Sacramento, San Diego and San Francisco) and GO. In order for this movement to propel forward and succeed, we must be educated, we must know how to work together, we must be on the same page, and we must remain inspired. Camp Courage is the step in the right direction. Do not miss out. GO.

Originally posted on